Michael Jackson

Dehumanization of Others and Our Own

In many conflicts, dehumanization plays a major role.  What is dehumanization?

It includes killing and violence against the Other.  It includes slavery of the Other.  It includes discrimination and persecution of the Other.  It includes denial of legal rights and voting rights, for example, Jim Crow laws.  It includes racism against the Other.  Current international examples include the Chinese persecution of the Uighur Muslim minority, the killing and expulsion of the Rohingya in Myanmar, Saudi persecution of its Shi’ite minority, the UK’s plan to deport illegal immigrants to Rwanda, and the much higher recruitment of Siberian and other non-Russian ethnic minorities for cannon fodder in Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Let us focus on the Palestinian-Jewish issue in the current war in Israel-Gaza.  Since I am Jewish, I write this paragraph from the Jewish perspective.  Some Jews dehumanize Palestinians in a number of the ways listed above.  For these Jews, Palestinians, as an ethnic/national group, should have fewer rights and a lower economic profile.  

Now reread the above paragraph substituting the words “Jew” for “Palestinian” and vice versa.

The dehumanization listed so far concerns groups.  Thus, racism is a form of dehumanization.  Asserting that one racial, ethnic, or religious group is inherently superior to another is racism that dehumanizes the other group.   However, some dehumanizations are not racist.  For example, if I describe a businessman as a cheating lizard or describe a neighbor I do not like as a snake, that is dehumanization but not necessarily racism.  Recently ex-president Trump called his opponents “vermin”.  This is obvious dehumanization, but not racism since Trump’s target group includes Whites, Asians, Muslims, Hispanics, Blacks, and Jews. These types of dehumanization are directed at individuals, not racial or ethnic groups.

My main interest here is not to define dehumanization nor to give many examples.  I do want to explore how the dehumanization of the Other (group dehumanization) can lead to the dehumanization of one’s own kind (individual dehumanization within one’s group).  Since we are focusing on the Palestinian-Jewish situation, let’s consider a Jew, perhaps an extremist settler, who dehumanizes Palestinians.  This person sees a Jew who actively supports Palestinian rights as a betrayer and as someone who should be prosecuted or attacked.  It has led to some settler violence employed against Jewish activists supporting Palestinian rights in the West Bank.  The most extreme example in Israeli history was the killing of Prime Minister Rabin by a person convinced that Rabin was betraying the Jewish right to annex the whole of the West Bank.  Murder and assassination are the most extreme forms of dehumanization.  Palestinian individual dehumanization can lead to violence against fellow Palestinians who show understanding or willingness to negotiate with Israel.

I think that a survey asking about group dehumanization with follow-up questions on individual dehumanization would find a high correlation between people holding group dehumanization beliefs and individual dehumanization beliefs.


About the Author
Born in London in 1949. Studied Maths at Warwick University. Came to Israel (WUJS program at Arad) in 1971. I became a citizen and served in the army in 1973. Returned to the UK in 1974. Worked in Information Systems. Married an American Orthodox woman in 1977 and moved to America. For a few years I have led a retiree philosophy class.
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